Emerald Isle candidates stress growth, stormwater management, vegetation protection as key issues

Eight Emerald Isle municipal election candidates participated in a virtual campaign forum via Zoom Oct. 13. Pictured are top row from left, moderator Sally White and mayoral candidate Doug Starcke; middle row, mayoral candidate Jason Holland and commission candidates Travis Speight and Candace Dooley; and bottom row, commission candidates Jamie Vogel, Jeff Ward and Mark Taylor. Commission candidate Josh Sawyer participated, but not use a camera. (Brad Rich screenshot)

EMERALD ISLE — Two Emerald Isle mayoral candidates and six commission candidates engaged in a virtual forum Oct. 13 highlighted by discussions of stormwater management and protection of vegetation.

Jason Holland and Doug Starcke are seeking the mayoral seat being vacated by Eddie Barber, who chose not to file for reelection in the balloting Tuesday.

Candace Dooley and Mark Taylor are running for reelection to their commission seats, challenged by Josh Sawyer, Travis Speight, Jamie Vogel and Jeff Ward. The third commission seat up grabs is held by Jim Normile, who chose not to seek reelection.

Sally White of the Carteret County League of Women voters hosted the forum on Zoom.

Most of the candidates cited stormwater management and flooding, particularly in the Coast Guard Road corridor, along with stopping clearcutting of vegetation as the most important issues facing Emerald Isle.

The town has been working on stormwater management for years, but is beginning a more concerted effort as increasingly lighter rains are causing problems.

“We’re working very hard on it,” Ms. Dooley said. “We can’t make (rain) stop, but we can push it off as soon as we can.”

Mr. Sawyer talked about vegetation and traffic, as well, noting the town’s maximum of 30% clearing of lots must be adhered to strictly to help limit runoff.

“Stormwater without a doubt is the most important issue,” Mr. Taylor said.

He, too, noted the vegetation rule must be enforced and there must be penalties imposed on violators.

Similarly, Ms. Vogel said the town needs to protect native vegetation.

“We need zero gaps” in the rule and strict enforcement,” she said.

Mr. Ward agreed on enforcement and said Emerald Isle needs to get a handle on water use in general, particularly over-irrigation of lawns.

Meanwhile, Mr. Holland said stormwater management is “at the top of the list,” but added the town needs to protect its shorelines, not just on the ocean side, but also along the sound.

Mr. Starcke agreed stormwater is a major issue to address, but noted it’s a universal problem across eastern North Carolina.

Like Mr. Taylor, Mr. Speight stressed the need to penalize those who violate vegetation rules.

“If not, it’s a free for all,” he said, and those who violate the rule must be forced to replant.

Mr. Ward said some of the problem “falls back on the town” and staff has to do a better job of “reporting offenders.”

None of the candidates supported raising the property tax rate, although several indicated they know it might happen.

“I’d like to see a tax increase as the last resort,” Mr. Holland said.

“The last thing we need to do is raise taxes,” Mr. Starcke agreed.

Mr. Sawyer noted the town needs to ensure the police, fire and EMS departments, along with the lifeguard program, continue to be adequately funded.

Meanwhile, Mr. Speight credited numerous town managers for working with commissioners to keep the tax rate low, at 15 cents per $100 of assessed value, plus an additional 4-cent tax for oceanfront property owners.

Mr. Taylor agreed.

“We’ve worked very hard to keep taxes low,” he said.

Ms. Vogel said the key is to manage growth and to continue applying for and receiving “as many grants as we can.”

Likewise, Mr. Ward said he would not want to raise taxes, but there might be ways Emerald Isle can reduce expenses, including possibly combining the fire and EMS departments, as some other towns in the area have done.

In their closing comments, the candidates talked mostly about keeping Emerald Isle a family beach.

Mr. Ward, a veterinarian, said people continually ask him why he does not add another vet to his staff. He compared that to growth in the town.

The move “won’t make me any happier. I think of the island the same way. I don’t want to wake up some morning and think, ‘I don’t recognize Emerald Isle,’” he said.

Ms. Vogel urged residents to get out and vote, but to do more than that, to “come together as much as possible.”

“Volunteer at the Christmas parade, volunteer at the St. Patrick’s Festival, volunteer at the (Emerald Isle) marathon,” she said. “This is our town … and we need everyone engaged.”

Mr. Taylor said during his years on the commission, he’s looked at himself as a “guardian,” protecting the things everyone loves about the town, and he wants to continue that role.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and you can’t get it back. And it’s fragile,” he noted.

Mr. Speight said he is running in part because young blood and fresh perspectives are important. One of his main goals is to get a fire station on Coast Guard Road so residents in that corridor will be closer to lifesaving emergency personnel.

“I don’t want to see Emerald Isle change,” he noted, and pledged to listen to the voters before pushing ideas.

Mr. Sawyer said he has childhood memories as he drives down the streets. He said he doesn’t want to make big changes, just “minor adjustments,” if needed. He pledged to continue to get out and talk to residents and listen after the election.

Ms. Dooley promised to continue listening to both sides of issues before making decisions as commissioner and urged voters to cast their ballots.

“Every election matters, and every vote truly does count,” she said.

Mr. Starcke stressed the importance of protecting the town for families, such as his.

“I am a product of this town,” from grade school to the present, he said. “I understand we need growth but we need to manage it and protect the culture. It’s not just digits going up.”

Mr. Holland said he had enjoyed being out in the community and talking to residents during the campaign and pledged to continue doing so if elected mayor.

“I will listen and learn and grow with you,” he said.

To playback the full forum, visit drive.google.com/file/d/1B0Tr_ufbn9VGFnfO7FPXiCBpM9CPix-7/view?fbclid=IwAR1lJ4jwlPGyf7Vj1ohBMHRebjBZDh2eWYb83SRUKgC2lqvdpSqLrZT3P38.


Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

(1) comment


Gridlock traffic is still a big problem - but no one addressed this. Storm water is just a straw dog. Rain is rain is rain. and some things are beyond our control. Define the problem/

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